Basic strategy for the Siskiyou line

Why a passenger operation needs to buy freight locos first.

Average speed is most heavily influenced by the slowest parts of a journey. The impact of very low speed can be noticed in the timetable's average speed columns on page 27. The train is slowed down by the curvature of the Sacramento River Canyon, with disproportionate effect. Considerable parts of the Siskiyou line have the same curvature. If average speed drops in the same fashion, passenger traffic becomes unfeasible. There are two ways to avoid this:

  1. Bypassing Cow Creek Canyon and the Siskiyou Pass with a new alignment and a base tunnel. Without any doubt, this is the best and fastest solution. Several billion $ would be needed for this.
  2. Radically optimizing the track for passenger traffic with tilting trains, regarding curve superelevation, track class and maintenance tolerances. If freights slow down too much on grades, they damage the innermost rail of highly superelevated track, and create unacceptable maintenance costs. Therefore, speeding up the freights on grades is a prerequisite for using this option.

"Central Oregon & Pacific" runs 1 freight per direction per day, plus switchers. Doubling the horsepower of this operation is possible at acceptable cost.

GE Dash 8-40BW on the move.  ATSF GP-60M on the move.
Both GE and GM have sold 4-axle locos with 3800 or 4000 hp to railroads all over the country.

Appropriate locos for a simple "4000 instead of 2000 hp" replacement are rather cheap. Honest calculation will add an overhaul, including upgrade of the prime mover, as required by EPA regulation. And for upgrading the straight sections to passenger train speeds beyond 79 mph, the FRA will insist on cab signaling or similar devices in every leading freight loco. Even after adding up these costs, a minute of travel time saved by the possible track optimization is more than 10 times cheaper than time savings by new track.

Please note, that this trick works only for the low-volume freight on the Siskiyou line. For the Natron Cutoff, with 10 times the traffic and a basis of far more powerful locos, the equation yields a far less favourable result. As well, "more than 10 times cheaper" is only achieved, if "radically optimizing" allows a few exceptions on short sections. If the grade gets steeper than 3%, like on the Siskiyou Pass itself, power requirements rise far more steeply than the mountains. Some compromising should be done there, and medium superelevation targeted - at moderately increased freight speed. As well, it needs to be noticed, that the freight trains north of Roseburg are longer and heavier than in the southern part. They run with more power already, midtrain helpers, and there is some 1.6% grade en route like Rice Hill. Accepting a superelevation like 4 inches for the tightest curves of such 1.6% section, again with a moderate increase in freight speed, might create the best balance, because squeezing out every possible minute can get expensive for the last minute to squeeze - more expensive than infrastructure options. The best values can only be found by in-depth study.

Advantages for both sides are needed.

Of course there is the question, why the CORP management should show any interest. Department of transport employees are regularely confronted with very low interest by freight railroads, to upgrade lines in favour of passenger traffic. Due to the grades, the Siskiyou will stay to be a bad route for heavy freight. Lumber shippers don't pay premium rates for speed. The best CORP could hope for, would be a request by Union Pacific, to run their lightest and fastest trains, like roadrailers, but that won't be guaranteed.

Nonetheless, the following facts could help:

  1. CORP crews are paid by the hour.
  2. In the 9 years of its existence, CORP has suffered from numerous and costly derailments. Stronger track with higher precision will reduce the probability. As well, the grade will get adjusted in a way, which results in a constant sum of grade resistance plus curve resistance. This is done with any modern track, and reduces the forces within a train.
  3. If the investment into more power is undertaken anyway, in a different project, it will of course be used for faster turnarounds, running either more traffic, or the same traffic with less hardware.

The chance for agreement seems to be much better than in many other cases, because there is enough to win for both sides.

The timetable estimation for the Siskiyou line will assume, that

No curve easing is assumed for the calculation. This does not mean, that it isn't suggested. The Siskiyou line has lots of curves, which circumvent problems for the shovels of 1880, while the problem no longer exists with modern machinery.

Tight curves in Shasta Valley, near Gazelle.
If tight curves are located on rather easy ground, and between faster sections, they should be attacked first.

Judging about the costs of track realignment is quite difficult without a detailed study. A small creek can be a small creek. As well, it could be a deep hole full of wet sand, requiring to dig 20 feet deep into the ground, before a solid basis for a track is found.

Leaving out the curve easing makes the timetable result of this article a conservative estimation. Those possibilities, which look best without detail study, will be mentioned in the text.

Unit conversion for text on this page.
3800 hp 2834 kW
4000 hp 2983 kW
2000 hp 1491 kW
79 mph 127 km/h
4 inches 102 mm
9 inches 229 mm
6 inches 152 mm
14 - 15 hp/ton 11.5 - 12.3 kW/metric ton
90 mph 145 km/h
110 mph 177 km/h
20 feet 6.1 m

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Last modified: 2003-10-01